Growth continues to be the story at Port Metro Vancouver, Canada’s largest port, reflecting the increasing global competitiveness of the facilities and supply chain serving customers within the Pacific Gateway. Total throughput for the first half of 2015 reached 70.3 million tonnes, a growth of 1.5 per cent over the same period last year, even as volumes varied by cargo sector. Export cargoes seeing significant increases included potash, up by 19 per cent, and grain, up by 9 per cent, both exceeding record volumes set during the same period in 2014. Other notable increases included sulphur and import containers by TEU, showing a 19 per cent and 8 per cent growth respectively.

While volumes of coal and some forest products decreased in the face of slowing growth in China, President and CEO, Robin Silvester remains optimistic that overall growth will continue. “It’s an encouraging picture because, even in a time of slight global economic softness, the medium and long-term fundamentals continue to show through and translate into growing trade through the port.”

The diversity of cargo also factored prominently in the continued strength of trade through the Gateway, and will prove to be advantageous over the longer term, according to Silvester. “Effectively, the diversity gives us a balance. It means that we can continue to plan for growth in the medium and long term with the confidence that the fundamentals will add up to continued demand across cargo sectors.”

Positioning the port as a competitive Gateway with the capacity required to handle this growth has been the driving force behind a series of massive infrastructure investments recently completed. Construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road, improvements to the Port Mann corridor, and the near doubling of rail capacity in Roberts Bank and the North Shore and South Shore Trade Areas are all playing supporting roles in the efficiencies that have benefitted shippers.

Recent investments by the private sector signal their confidence in the Gateway and continued growth. These include what Silvester refers to as “first in a generation” private sector investments, such as new grain silos and grain elevators in the North Shore Trade Area. “The Gateway Improvement Program has been extremely successful, with the result that there’s been a huge amount of investment by private business in capacity at the waterfront. This is largely because they’re seeing the strong fundamentals in terms of growth, and they’re seeing commitment from government and the port to build the capacity that enables them to take advantage of those growth opportunities.”

Silvester expects that volume of growth over the near term will match the increase seen over the past half decade. “As we look forward over the next five to ten years, we see volumes growing by another 30 million tonnes. Whether we’re looking at growth in grain volumes or containers, there are huge opportunities available and significant investments being made in capacity across the country based on the port’s ability to connect Canada to international markets.”

Looking forward, Port Metro Vancouver is addressing the competitiveness of the growing Gateway for the long term – this means being sustainable. Finalized in early 2015, the Sustainable Gateway Definition provides a framework for managing growth in a way that provides prosperity through trade, maintains a healthy environment, and enables thriving communities. According to Silvester, “it’s about the way we grow and manage that complex balance between economic needs and opportunities, thriving communities and social systems, and preserving the diverse ecosystem we have around us. All of those three things have to come together for a city and gateway to be really successful.”

While infrastructure improvements physically expand Gateway capacity, improving supply chain efficiency through data and transparency further leverages that infrastructure investment. “Ultimately, we’ve had a great experience through the Gateway, where creating a common set of information drives collaboration,” says Silvester. “It changes the conversation from discussing what happened to debating how to improve it. That’s really been critical in underpinning the current competitiveness of the Gateway, and we still think there’s opportunity to do more.” He adds that the need for metrics and transparency are reflected in some of Port Metro Vancouver’s recommendations to the Canada Transportation Act review panel.

Being ready for growth also means having the land to do so. The availability of industrial land, which is vital to the large-scale distribution activities that underpin the competitiveness of the Canadian supply chain, is a critical issue. “We have a strong economy and some great economic growth opportunities. Anchoring that strength is the gateway system. And if we lose the ability to grow because we run out of industrial land in the Lower Mainland, we disadvantage Canada through less efficient supply chains.” Consequently, work is underway to promote discussion and resolution of the issue with all three levels of government and a widening group of interested stakeholders. “If we can reuse the skills we’ve learned through the infrastructure program, repeat the process we’ve been through and continue to generate that level of collaboration, then we can support that growth and deliver huge local benefits.”

Work is also underway to identify and plan for the next round of infrastructure improvements. In 2014, Port Metro Vancouver and its partners in the Gateway Infrastructure Program joined in the creation of the Gateway Transportation Collaboration Forum in order to access funding from the federal government’s New Building Canada Fund. According to Silvester, the process to bring about these improvements is modeled on previous collaborations. “It will need the government to continue making significant investments and it will need us to work together to solve the challenge of land availability. We’ve done it once and we have to do it again. That doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it possible and it makes me optimistic.”

Capacity demand continues to drive growth at Port Metro Vancouver

Work is now largely complete on the 17 projects launched through the $717 million Gateway Infrastructure Program. Created in 2008, this multi-stakeholder Program addressed a set of infrastructure issues identified collectively by Port Metro Vancouver, Transport Canada, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Translink, and the Greater Vancouver Gateway Council, with extensive input from rail and industry stakeholders. The projects were carried out in three trade areas, and funded through the federal government’s Asia Pacific Gateway Corridor Initiative, the province, municipalities and industry stakeholders. Port Metro Vancouver pre-funded $167 million on behalf of industry.

The 17 projects concentrated on infrastructure improvements within the Roberts Bank Rail Corridor, the North Shore Trade Area and South Shore Trade Area. Projects within the Roberts Bank Rail Corridor, which traverses Delta, Surrey and Langley, were largely focused on grade separations. A permanent messaging system will ultimately provide drivers with information about remaining at-grade crossings in the area, allowing them to divert to overpasses when crossings are blocked by trains. All infrastructure projects are complete with the exception of the rail crossing information system, which will be fully operational by next summer. On the South Shore, the only remaining work is the relocation of the eastern end of Commissioner Street. This is the final step in creating space for the construction of two additional CP Rail tracks to serve this vital trade corridor. Work on this final component is pending the consolidation and rebuilding of the Columbia Containers grain transfer facility. Completion of all outstanding South Shore project components is scheduled for the end of summer 2017.

All projects within the North Shore Trade Area have now been completed. In collaboration with government and industry partners, Port Metro Vancouver’s relocation of Lower Level Road recently received an Envision Platinum rating in recognition of the sustainable practices used in the management and construction processes. The project is the first infrastructure project in North America to achieve this rating. “What’s gratifying about it,” says Cliff Stewart, Vice President, Infrastructure, “is that we didn’t set out to get any rating. So it’s a real validation of how we do things, particularly from the environmental, community impact, consultation and relationship perspectives. It’s just the way we do projects.”

The direct benefits of the $717 million investment in the Gateway infrastructure are already beginning to take shape. On the North Shore, CN Rail is currently constructing two new lines in the space provided through the relocation of Lower Level Road and the Lynn Creek and Brooksbank projects. Scheduled for completion by the fall 2015, these will ultimately increase rail capacity in the corridor by 50 per cent, an increase which is already being leveraged by the private sector. Investments in the expansion of capacity at Richardson, Lynnterm, Neptune and Cargill terminals, among others, are approaching $1 billion. “They’ve made huge investments in their sites,” says Stewart, “but the rail capacity was critical to being able to achieve that. We had a vision, a plan, and now the private sector is showing that our strategy was well-founded.”

Now that the Gateway Infrastructure Program is largely complete, Port Metro Vancouver and its partners have already launched efforts to identify and secure funding for a second round of infrastructure projects designed to further improve capacity and supply chain fluidity. Formally established in 2014, the Gateway Transportation Collaboration Forum is seeking to implement a series of additional projects, many of which were identified during the first round of improvements.

According to Stewart, the Collaboration Forum is replicating the process that worked so well when accessing funding through the Asia Pacific Gateway Corridor Initiative. “We’re coming together as a group and asking what makes the most sense for everybody collectively, in the region, from the perspective of goods movement. And how do we get projects identified and prioritized so that we can say that the province is involved, Translink is involved, the Gateway Council’s involved, the municipalities are there, YVR and the railroads are there, and so are we. If the group collectively says it’s a good project, that’s a very strong endorsement when the list gets to Ottawa.”

Currently, the Collaboration Forum is conducting two studies, one in the Roberts Bank Trade Area and the other concerning the fourth area of the Gateway, the Fraser River Trade Area. These studies will identify projects that address additional capacity demands to 2025. Funding for the projects will be sought from the National Infrastructure Component of the federal government’s $4 billion New Building Canada Fund. The proposed projects will undergo screening by members of the Forum and then passed on to the Steering Committee before being forwarded to Ottawa.

Projects already identified include the need for a new interchange to accommodate greater than forecasted traffic flows at the intersection of South Fraser Perimeter Road and Nordel Way in Delta. Others will address the challenge of getting more trains to the North Shore through the existing rail network. “We’re reaching the limits of that tunnel/bridge complex that feeds the North Shore, with the existing operating model,” comments Stewart. “So now, industry together with the port and the railways are looking at whether there’s something we can do with the operating model to lift that capacity some more.” Proposed solutions include installation of diesel fume extractors in the tunnel to allow trains to transit the tunnel directly after each other, as well as the construction of more rail sidings in Burnaby that will remove impediments to the movement of trains over to the North Shore.

Boosting Container Capacity Remains a Priority

As the Collaboration Forum focuses on projects designed to improve the efficiency of supply chain infrastructure within the Gateway, Port Metro Vancouver continues to invest heavily in the expansion of container terminal capacity through its long-term Container Capacity Improvement Program (CCIP). The three projects identified through the Program are expected to boost the Gateway’s aggregate container capacity by approximately 3.6 million TEUs to meet forecasted demand through 2030. These projects include the Deltaport Terminal, Road and Rail Improvement Project, the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project, and a proposed expansion of Centerm container terminal.

In Delta, work is well under way on improvements to Deltaport terminal. Known as the Deltaport Road and Rail Improvement Project (DTRRIP), this project is expected to deliver an additional 600,000 TEUs, for a total terminal capacity of 2.4 million TEUs. The first component of the project, an overpass, is now complete. Final wiring and electronics work on the roadway approaching the terminal will be completed by the end of this year. Recently procured funding from the federal and provincial governments will help cover the cost of building a truck staging area near the intersection of Highway 17 and Deltaport Way. The second component of the DTRRIP project is the reconfiguration of the terminal, scheduled for completion in 2017. A project permit application has been submitted for the work, which includes the installation of a cantilevered, rail-mounted gantry system, designed to increase the efficiency and throughput of the facility. “The challenge is trying to build this in the middle of an operating terminal,” says Stewart. The third DTRRIP project component is the construction of additional rail sidings by B.C. Rail.

The largest undertaking within the CCIP is Port Metro Vancouver’s Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project, a proposed new 3-berth container terminal that would provide a capacity of 2.4 million TEUs to meet growing container capacity demand to 2030 and beyond. After five years of preparation, including the completion of 77 scientific studies and extensive public, technical and stakeholder consultation, the project’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was filed with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency in March 2015, for review by a panel under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. Since filing the EIS, Port Metro Vancouver has been working to respond to additional information requests issued by the CEA Agency on a range of topics, including the potential environmental impacts of expanded shipping in the area from the proposed terminal’s outer boundary out to the 12-mile nautical limit in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Once the information requests are satisfied, the EIS will be submitted to an independent review panel for formal review in early 2016. The project was also submitted to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office, and will be assessed under B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Act. The combined environmental review processes are expected to take up to three years to complete. The final investment decision will be made in 2018, based upon the outcome of the reviews and the costs of any conditions imposed upon the project.

The final project currently within the CCIP portfolio is the proposed expansion of Centerm, located on the south shore of Burrard Inlet. The project involves the proposed reconfiguration of the facility and Ballantyne Pier. The expansion would provide an additional capacity of approximately 600,000 TEUs, increasing the terminal’s total to 1.5 m TEUs. Following detailed design work, a rigorous permitting process would include stakeholder consultation and engagement. Construction could begin in early 2017, in time to meet forecast capacity demands for 2020.

Notwithstanding the economic downturn, Stewart is confident that the growth in demand for capacity will persist. While current and proposed projects are proceeding as planned, he is looking to stakeholders to help improve the efficiency of cargo movements through the Gateway. “Port Metro Vancouver is doing everything it can to meet demand and I’m optimistic we will continue to meet it. But we can’t build new terminals any faster, so we need to focus on things like reducing dwell time, which is a key factor in capacity, in order to get more out of what we have. We simply don’t have any choice about that, neither do we have the luxury of being inefficient.”